LATE BLOOMER ~ Annie Percik

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity.

There’s a lot more of it around in the mainstream public consciousness these days. Let’s see – we’ve got L-G-B-T-Q-I-A-+ now, haven’t we? I wonder who decided when to stop adding letters and just put the ‘+’ on the end to cover everything else. It’s a bit like all those ‘other people’ who get thanked in Oscar acceptance speeches – you know who you are, but you’re not important enough to be named.

Anyway, I’m one of the Bs – we’re third in line and we’ve been there the whole time, but we don’t really get much attention. I guess it’s probably because the concept doesn’t naturally come up in conversation.

“Do you have a partner?”

“Yes, I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 13 years – but he could equally have been a woman!” Or vice versa.

It turns out that it’s so difficult to casually bring it up in conversation that I accidentally outed myself to my mum last year.

We were talking about my second novel – oh yes, I had two novels published last year, which was pretty fantastic. But that’s a bit difficult to bring up in conversation sometimes, too, like when I reconnect with old friends.

“Oh, hi,” I say. “Haven’t seen you around for a while, given the global pandemic, and all. How are things?”

“Absolutely terrible. My grandma died because of Covid, I lost my job because of Covid, my marriage broke up because of Covid, and my cat had to be put down – somehow also because of Covid. How about you?”

“Me? How about me? Uhhhhhh…”

I’m totally amazing! The last two years have been absolutely the best two years of my life to date! I can’t tell you how many fantastic things have happened to me lately. No, I know – I really can’t…

“Yeah, not so bad, thanks…”

But yes, 2020 and 2021 have actually been really good to me. I signed my first publishing contract, my first and second novels were both published, I found a new career I love and that pays well, and I finally quit my awful office job to live the dream. Plus, my marriage has never been stronger – after being trapped together in the flat for two years, we discovered we actually really enjoy spending time together. Who knew?

Anyway, back to accidentally coming out to my mum at the ripe old age of 43….

So, I was explaining to my mum the concept of #ownvoices. You know, books about characters from underrepresented or marginalized groups, in which the author shares the same identity. And I’m all for it! I stand here, as a middle aged, middle class, cisgender, white woman and state we need more diversity in publishing!

But there can be a concern for people like me – and I was worried about getting criticised for writing a protagonist who is Indian. But I told my mum I’d read that, if your main character has multiple minority characteristics, it’s okay, as long as you share at least one of them. Now, Anushka is Indian, she’s a biologist (yes, I know that’s not a minority characteristic, but it’s important for the flow of the story, okay?) and she’s also queer.

My mum looked at me in confusion and said, “But you’re not Indian. Or a scientist…”

Yes, mum, work it through, you’ll get there!

Her eyes widened as the realization hit her.

Yes, she’s queer!

I really hadn’t intended to randomly come out to my mum over lunch at a central London bistro. Not because I was ashamed or anything – but just because I honestly thought she already knew.

So, I said to her, “What about all those times, over the last twenty-five years, when I’ve gone on and on about all the women I fancy.”

And she just looked at me, completely sincerely and said, “I thought you were joking.”

So, even if you’re totally open about it, it turns out it’s difficult to persuade people you’re bi. I guess it’s partly because you can live a completely authentic, completely heterosexual existence, like I have. Yes, I know, it’s very sad – but I’ve never kissed a girl.

And apparently, not many people know I’d quite like to. Apart from you lot now, I guess. So, welcome to the inner circle, audience full of total strangers!

It all started, back when I was at secondary school. There was this one girl in my year. She was so pretty and she had one of those smiles that lights up the room, you know? Her name was Jenny. But I don’t think I ever actually spoke to her, not once in the two years we were at sixth form together. Because she was in the Hard Times Clan, so called because they couldn’t last the whole day without access to a blow-dryer. They were the pretty, popular girls, and I was a member of the Reject Alcove – and proud of it, I must say!

But no amount of taking my glasses off and letting my hair down would ever grab the attention of one of the Hard Times Clan. So, that was that.

Boys were just easier to attract, even when I didn’t want to. So, I took the path of least resistance. And don’t get me wrong – I don’t have any regrets. My husband is wonderful and we’re very happy together.

But I do sometimes wonder about the path not taken. And that’s come back to the forefront of my mind lately, because that part of my psyche has recently woken up, like snowdrops at the very start of spring. I’ve fallen in love with someone. She’s so pretty, and she has one of those smiles that lights up the room, you know? Her name is also Jenny – apparently I have a type!

Anyway, she lives quite far away from me, and I wrote her an email a while back, asking if I could come and visit. It was awful – like one of those really embarrassing, painful voicemail messages you leave when you haven’t planned what you’re going to say. And I really have no excuse, because it was an email, so I could have rewritten it before I sent it, but hey.

She replied, “It would be great to see you. I could put you up in my tiny flat, but only if you’re prepared to share my bed.”

Wide-eyed, frozen deer-in-headlights reaction.

Ummmm, what now???

Once my heart had started beating again, I realized the only reason she could possibly have suggested that would be if she had absolutely no idea how I feel about her. Which is totally fine, and understandable, since she knows I’m happily married!

I haven’t been hiding it as well as I’d thought, though. I was talking to one of our mutual friends and I blurted out at one point, “I think I might be a bit in love with Jenny.”

And our friend just stared at me and said, “A bit???”

My husband also knows all about it and he’s all for it! He fits into one of those alternative lifestyles covered by the ‘+’ sign – he’s a P for polyamorous. So, he thinks I should totally go for it with Jenny. But, I don’t know.

I’m pretty comfortable in my safe, monogamous, heterosexual bubble. And it would be a bit of a risk, and might mess up our friendship, which is important to me. Especially since she’s probably looking for an actual relationship, rather than a pathetic 45-year-old, finally dredging up the courage to experiment…

But I guess the cat’s out of the bag, since it’s in print now. So, if you happen to be reading this, what do you say, Jenny?